The mouth of the Shenandoah River as it enters the Potomac at Harpers Ferry

I’m getting near home and I can sense it. Today’s ride, 42 miles from Williamsport to Harpers Ferry, took me out the last of the Allegheny Mountain ridges (North Mountain) and into what is known as the Great Valley. South of the Potomac River, in Virginia, it’s called the Shenandoah Valley and it’s drained by the Shenandoah River. Harrisonburg, where I now call home, is about 90 miles south of here.

The canal in Towpath leaving out of Williamsport

My ride today started in the rain. Fortunately it was light and before long it let up completely. However, water + dirt =mud so there was a fair amount of it on the road today and I got well-coated in it. By late morning the sun came out, I me out, and so did the dirt. I brushed most of it off by the afternoon.

In order for the old canal to have had enough water, several dams were built along the Potomac. As I was riding yesterday and today it often felt like I was going alongside a reservoir. Well, I was. Today’s dams created a pool of water 12 miles long, and this is known as Big Slackwater.

Damn #5

The left bank of the river is a sheet rock wall. There was no way they could cut a canal through this, so they used the big Slackwater to run the canal boats and cut a towpath into the rock about 8 feet wide.

Along the edge of the Big Slackwater

It was a very dramatic and even a slightly hair rising-ride. I took my time because on the left was a sheer rock wall and to the right was a drop into the water.

Later, At one point I came to a fallen tree across the path. Somehow or other I managed to wedge my bike past it, but it was really difficult and I wondered about some of the riders coming along behind me. Two women that I had been riding near for the past several days, Liz and Star, would be coming to the same place soon. I noticed that there was a road parallel to the towpath, on the other side of the canal, and that it could be used as a detour. When they came near I waved them down and pointed out the detour, which they used. Later I met another rider coming from the other direction and gave him the same tip.

This fallen tree made the path nearly impassible.
Star and Liz, two deaf riders, who started in Cumberland and are making their way home to D.C.

Around noon I came to Shepherdstown West Virginia, and decided to go up and over the bridge into town for some coffee and a scone. This is my favorite kind of rest stop.

Potomac River below Shepherdstown.Potomac River below Shepherdstown.
The perfect bikers snack

After Shepherdstown, the path is paved with crushed lime stone. This was a dream. It’s so much smoother and there’s no mud! I am told they’re going to extend this 20 miles per year until they do the whole towpath. I’m really looking forward to that.

The new, improved surface around Shepherdstown.
Biker/pedestrian bridge over the Potomac at Harpers Ferry

By early afternoon I had reached Harpers ferry. This is a place I am very familiar with and is perhaps my favorite spot along the entire river. I have been coming here to hike for over 40 years. Over that period of time I have watched the town grow and develop into the national park that it now is. It’s quite a dramatic point, with a the Shanandoah emptying into the Potomac River, with high Bluffs on the north and south banks. Our favorite place to hike is one of those bluffs, called Maryland Heights and you get a fabulous view of town from up there.

Maryland Heights, just across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry.

It’s really a charming and historical town. It’s of course famously known as the place where John Brown tried to foment a slave uprising in 1859, the incident which most likely sparked the start of the Civil War. It is also the headquarters for the Appalachian Trail, which goes through town. If you are riding the C&O towpath, it’s worth a visit.

High Street in Harpers Ferry
Enjoying a brown ale with John Clark

In the evening I met up with John Clark, a new friend who has been riding the same sections of the towpath as I have. I have enjoyed getting to make several new friends on this trip.

Tomorrow I will ride the last 60 miles into Washington and complete my journey.

4 thoughts on “Day 6: Williamsport to Harpers Ferry—Take Me Home Country Roads… Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

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